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Where Science Can't Go.
Posted: 10 April 2005 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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PSI,

  I can follow that line of reasoning but it still leaves unanswered the question of thought and mental phenomena. Are they physical in nature or not? If they are non-physical then we have a source ‘outside’ the physical world that can effect the brain. My statement about circular reasoning had to with what would constitute proof of a non-physical force. Certainly mental phenomena are a mystery. If they are created by the brain what are they composed of? Where are they located? How are they perceived? I would be interested in hearing what the latest research shows on the timing of thought formation and brainwave activity. [quote author=“James Austin 1998”]When scientists try to correlate the data from the different levels of analysis they are still uncertain which of our neurophysiological microstates is being reflected in such brief EEG landscapes and how any of the episodes correlates with the stream of topics which swirls around in our subjective mental field.

 

It is also recognized that the brain changes in response to learning new things, forming new neural pathways. How does the physical brain change in response to new ideas (non-physical phenomenon}?

One question about the line of reasoning that you espouse, if the brain wanted a hamburger why would it form a thought about it, perceive the thought, form another thought about the action, perceive that thought and then go get the burger? Unless you want to say that the brain felt it wanted a burger, then decided to go get the burger and the thoughts that were formed meant nothing, they were just after the fact window dressing. If indeed this is the case then thinking is meaningless, pointless or purposeless because the brain has already made all the decisions before we consciously know about them.

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“Every minute we spend oblivious to the value of a minute is a minute of unconsciousness. This isn’t some screwball scheme to latch onto the present moment in time, it’s simply what it means to be awake.”

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Posted: 10 April 2005 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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[quote author=“JustThis”] I can follow that line of reasoning but it still leaves unanswered the question of thought and mental phenomena. Are they physical in nature or not? If they are non-physical then we have a source ‘outside’ the physical world that can effect the brain. My statement about circular reasoning had to with what would constitute proof of a non-physical force.

Yes, the reasoning that I gave does not explain the “how” of thinking, but it does offer up a reasonable basis for defining the “box” that thinking occurs in as residing firmly in this world.

[quote author=“JustThis”]It is also recognized that the brain changes in response to learning new things, forming new neural pathways. How does the physical brain change in response to new ideas (non-physical phenomenon}?

Well, I don’t believe that those ideas are non-physical, so I don’t see how the mechanism would be all that different.  There are multiple different regions of the brain, and they seem to do different things.  Some of them directly gather sensory information, and some of them are more or less isolated from any such “direct” contact with the outside world.  All of them interact via the same electrochemical means, though.  So, the sense data of the “outside” world, and novel thought data of the “inside” world, should be qually free to inform new pathways.

[quote author=“JustThis”] One question about the line of reasoning that you espouse, if the brain wanted a hamburger why would it form a thought about it, perceive the thought, form another thought about the action, perceive that thought and then go get the burger? Unless you want to say that the brain felt it wanted a burger, then decided to go get the burger and the thoughts that were formed meant nothing, they were just after the fact window dressing. If indeed this is the case then thinking is meaningless, pointless or purposeless because the brain has already made all the decisions before we consciously know about them.

First of all, let me be very clear about something:  I do not know how or why the brain/mind work in these respects.  I do enjoy theorizing about it, which I will do shortly, but all such speculations should be taken as just that.

That having been said, I believe that the mind (which the brain gives rise to) is very complicated.  So, to talk about the brain wanting a hamburger is really to oversimplify things.  The brain registers hunger, and a variety of things happen to make sure that hunger is properly addressed.

Stepping back, a moment, I would say that it is fairly obvious that the human mind is posessed of a fairly advanced capacity for simulation.  It is an ability so innate that many of us do not even stop to think about it.  I would contend, however, that this capacity for simulation is key to understanding why the brain would “waste” all this effort thinking about wanting a hamburger, instead of merely going to get it.

So, when hunger is registered, I would contend that the brain begins to run “simulations” of ways in which this hunger could be eliminated.  In the end, after different aspects of the brain contribute to this debate, a course of action can be decided on.

Sometimes, I suppose, there will be no clear winner amongst the simulations.  A choice must be made.  Intuitively, I suspect that this need for a mental arbiter is what gives rise to the concept of “I” that each of us is so familiar with.  I also suspect that many of the altered states that are experienced through meditation has to do with calming this process of simulate and arbitrate down, so that certain things can just be “experienced” without this filter.

-Matt

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Posted: 10 April 2005 04:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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For what it’s worth, I’ll jump in here with my definition of “mind.”

Mind consists of interior pseudo-hallucinations—perceptions of things that are beyond what is actually in front of us, combining, separating and forming what we strive to maintain as reality.

Eventually, “mind” could become obsolete as the connections between thoughts (ethereal) and neuro-anatomy (quantifiable) are refined, labeled, and brought to the public through commonplace terms. In theory, “sadness” might eventually be called something like, “structure DRG, grid 11, impulse B,” but I know better. Ancestral non-anatomical descriptions of our interior will operate for eons to come, even if such terms were coined without any technical knowledge. I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.

By pseudo-hallucination, by the way, I’m referring to anything conjectured or remembered. Though it’s a bit of a stretch, a memory can be thought of as a hallucination, in the sense that your brain is sending you signals about something beyond what is actually before you in a literal sense. This is mind. Consciousness is present when mind is awake to an environment.

So if a crocodile remembers that it likes to swim in water, it has consciousness. Any creature that can remember anything has consciousness, in my definition. In a broad sense, therefore, even plants could be construed as having a form of consciousness—at least those that are able to respond to their environment.

Human consciousness is constructed of pretty much what crocodiles and even more primitive creatures have—we just have more of it, and most people feel that our brand of consciousness is special. How ours got to be so special, I feel, is due to the invention of words.

Dave

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Posted: 12 April 2005 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Ive thought about this question some. I kind of worked backwards, thinking of what a baby’s mind must be like. Answer: No mind at all! Theres no consciousness, no sense of “I”, no Ego. All its little brain is doing is soaking up impressions of the world. All of these impressions become memories. Gradually, various memories become associated with other memories. Colors, shapes, actions, and so forth, take on meaning.

Skipping forward: Our adult ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ is nothing but memory associations.  What else can it be? Our curiosity is a need to fill in the blanks, because of the stress of not knowing. A decision to eat arises from hunger. When a person makes a decision to eat one thing over another the balance of stresses between the two choices determines which is to be eaten. ‘Higher functions’ are just interactions of stresses between more complicated memory patterns.

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Posted: 14 April 2005 03:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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[quote author=“PSI”]The book quote is a classic argument from ignorance. It says, “science cannot prove that the brain is only physical and that nothing of the mind survives the death of the brain, so why not suppose that it might be that way?” Well, this takes us right back to the alien clockstoppers. What empirical evidence can you show that aliens do not freeze our universe every couple of minutes to perform experiments? None? Well, I guess they do then.

I forgot to mention that the book that my quoted passage comes from is “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris.

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“Every minute we spend oblivious to the value of a minute is a minute of unconsciousness. This isn’t some screwball scheme to latch onto the present moment in time, it’s simply what it means to be awake.”

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Posted: 14 April 2005 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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JustThis:

I enjoyed and appreciated Sam’s book, but I don’t agree with him unreservedly.

-Matt

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